In 2015, there were over 1300 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state of Massachusetts. In the past two years, deaths from pain medication and heroin have spiked in the state, jumping 41% between 2013 and 2014 and 8% the following year. Massachusetts is undoubtedly in the midst of an addiction crisis. The question now is how to solve it.
One company, Face it Together, a nonprofit headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is tackling the issue head on. Their approach is simple—go directly into the communities most affected by the crisis and work with local leaders to help remove the barriers that prevent people from seeking help.
According to Chief Revenue Officer Steven Schwartz, Face it Together’s mission is to solve the disease of addiction — which is very deliberate wording. Schwartz says the goal is to make people in the community understand addiction as a chronic disease, as opposed to a personal failing.
“10% of the population in America suffers from the disease—90% will never seek help in their lifetime,” Schwartz says. “They don’t seek that help because of the stigma. They have to trust and feel that they won’t be shunned if they raise their hand and tell their [community].” Face It Together believes the way to build that trust is by working collaboratively with all the major leaders in any given community—including health care providers, employers, faith leaders and teachers—to help remove the barriers that prevent people from seeking help, and to change the culture around how we talk about drug addiction.
Once a community affiliate is established, Face it Together uses their web-based Axis Support Platform, powered by Welkin Health, to help trained peer recovery coaches provide the best possible care to their clients. The Axis Support Platform helps streamline workflow, as well as track interactions between coaches and clients. Further, it allows people to connect to their coaches in whatever way is most convenient to them — smartphone, text, or email all work in compliance with the system.
Face it Together measures success in an individual community using a Recovery Capital Index that tracks both personal recovery, like physical and mental wellbeing, as well as people’s relationships to their family and other social groups, and to their community as a whole. This data is captured by the Axis Support Platform during client’s interactions with their coaches.
Face it Together is currently speaking to approximately fifteen communities about implementing their system. This process isn’t easy, Schwartz says. “What we try to do is compel people to come to us. It takes people who recognize the impact.” Because Face it Together creates nonprofits in individual communities, it needs financiers in every community it enters. This requires people in the community to want to work with Face it Together to try and tackle the crisis. Face it Together has developed a private sector financing model in order to fund these community affiliates.
But the work is worth it. According to their 2015 annual report, 94% of recovery coaching clients in the Sioux Falls program felt that Face it Together had changed their lives for the better. 44% of people said that it improved their emotional health, 41% felt it improved their physical health, and nearly 30% felt it improved their mental health. According to a larger community survey, people also said the program helped them believe addiction was a treatable disease and not a personal weakness. Many agreed that Face it Together had improved the community, and would recommend its implementation in other places.
Face it Together is arriving in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the upcoming weeks. They aim to have 100 affiliate cities by 2021. Furthermore, Face it Together is working to bring some of their current tools to the health care system more broadly. “We have the industry’s only and most comprehensive addiction management platform and toolkit in America,” Schwartz says, referring to the Axis Support Platform. The Axis Support Platform is fully HIPPA compliant, and is interoperable with other systems used in the field, like electronic medical records. Face it Together is also creating HIPPA-compliant peer recovery and coaching videos to put on the internet to reach an even broader number of people in need. “Because even if we have 100 affiliates it won’t touch all of America,” according to Schwartz.
Schwartz is optimistic about the future and the amount of help Face it Together can provide to end the opioid crisis. He says what’s key is stopping the stigma that prevents people from getting treatment. “At the end of the day, to us, in order to solve addiction we’ve got to get more and more and more people engaged,” Schwartz says.
Casey Nugent is an editorial intern for MedTech Boston. She’s currently working on her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. Outside of working at MedTech Boston, Casey enjoys drinking coffee, going to the theater, goofing around with friends, and hanging out with dogs.
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